Matt Bidinger recently turned thirty, likes to forget he’s closer to 31 really, and splits his spare time between playing with digital technology, his dogs, and his wife. He is a self-proclaimed nerd, who makes the yearly pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. His professional life consists of blogging and managing several technology websites.

An enjoyable trip invigorates, refreshes, and inspires. Excitement grows leading up to departure and before you return you may find yourself wishing you never had to leave. Those memories that last are the best part of any vacation. And with the right camera you’ll be able to capture every moment, share with loved ones for years to come, and bring your memories and senses back to those special destinations!

With thousands of digital cameras on the market all touting their own advantages, how best to choose the right one for your next trip? We’re ready to arm you with the information to make the right decision for your travel needs.

We’ll save you time and money by simplifying your options and setting you on the right path. We’ll introduce the basic classes of cameras which fit best for your travel needs. Then we’ll detail how to narrow down your options. And finally, we’ll make a few recommendations for specific models to get you shooting. You’ll be well on your way to winning $2,500 worth of prizes in Fly.com’s Photo Contest!

How to Choose a Camera

Our first step as we venture down the path to finding the perfect camera is introducing the classes of cameras you should be aware of. As we’re looking for the perfect travel camera, we’ll focus in on compact cameras and the latest and greatest in digital camera technology, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs). While you may already own a compact, MILCs are the modern alternative to complex and expensive DSLRs you’ve seen used by the professionals. The MILC should be interesting to you because they commonly provide the sharp wow-factor you see in images taken by DSLR, they accommodate various lenses for added flexibility, and with fewer buttons they have simpler operation more similar to compact cameras you are already familiar with!

Compact/Point and Shoot Cameras

Starting with one we’ve all owned and are familiar with, we have the compact camera. This is your  classic point and shoot digital device and the most basic entry level option, available to purchase anywhere cameras are sold. This class of camera is characterized by ease of use and convenience, having a single lens design and minimal physical buttons. If ease of use is your primary value in a camera, this is the right option for you. These devices are small, sleek, and lightweight – great qualities for the mobile traveler! A good compact camera is pretty good at taking any kind of picture for the casual photographer.

How do we choose the right compact camera? You can find these in a range to fit most any budget, from $50 up to as much as $500. Most consumers make their decision here based on the pixel count (megapixels or “MP”) and the ability to zoom. You come to Fly.com to get a step ahead of the curve however, so we have a few words for the wise!

A higher pixel rating yields the ability to make larger prints without noticeable granularity, however a 6MP camera is perfect for as large as a professional quality 12”x18” print. While pixel count is the primary marketing figure to represent camera quality, don’t be fooled by the hype. A 6-8MP rating is perfect for pictures most often printed, and going to higher pixel counts won’t yield better looking 4×6′s or 5×7′s. So if you don’t intend to make posters out of your pictures, you could be well advised to pay more for a lower pixel count camera. Instead of mega-paying for megapixels, you’ll instead be paying for a higher quality lens and better imaging characteristics from the camera internals. Many factors go into the final image quality, so take these megapixel tips into consideration and shop smart!

Lumix Capture the Moment: Choosing a Camera for Your Next Trip

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 (Amazon.com)

Which point and shoot pocket camera to choose? Here’s some pointers by price range:

While there are many options available in this category, going beyond this price range on a point and shoot is likely to yield much greater expense with relatively little gains. So for better picture quality at a slightly higher price there are more attractive options which we’ll talk about next.

Advanced MILC Cameras

Now to introduce the newer, more advanced Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC). These cameras come in a form factor most similar to Compact Cameras – they are generally smaller than DSLRs. They have two primary design features. The first, is the interchangeable lens. These cameras have mounts which offer the flexibility of using a different lens for a different type of photograph, improving the resulting image quality. Changing the lens isn’t necessary however either – a single lens can be used for all pictures if you prefer the ease of a point and shoot.  The second, is the view finder. MILCs primarily use a rear LCD viewfinder used in hand. They do not include a mirror based optical viewfinder, and they have fewer buttons than their DSLR counterparts. This saves on space and simplifies the camera interface. While these are defining characteristics of this type of camera, the most important part which makes the MILC an interesting option is the sensor size. MILC and DSLR cameras commonly use larger imaging sensors than their compact counterparts, and this larger area allows more detail and light to be captured, producing stunningly powerful images!

So to summarize why you might consider an MILC? Size, simplicity and price can be very similar to compact cameras while flexibility and image quality is competitive with more complex and expensive DSLRs. In many ways, MILCs give you the best of both worlds. Perhaps that is why mirrorless cameras are the fastest growing segment in the digital camera market. When making your purchasing decision you’ll need to pick a model based on your personal preferences and taste, however we can set you in the right direction. For an MILC, Olympus and Panasonic both use generously sized image sensors, while you can get even larger sensors in Sony, Samsung, and Fujifilm devices.

OlympusPE Capture the Moment: Choosing a Camera for Your Next Trip

Olympus PEN E-PL1 (Amazon.com)

Now what is the best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera to take with you? We’ll again go by price range here:

  • At the entry level, while not the newest model but still an excellent choice, it is especially hard to go wrong with the Olympus PEN E-PL1 for $300. That includes the camera body as well as the lens, and it gets you into all the benefits of a MILC including a larger four thirds image sensor not commonly found in compact cameras.
  • On the more “premium” end of the spectrum, but still a very good price, you may opt for the Sony NEX-5N at under $600 for camera body and lens. This camera gets you into the same league as DSLR counterparts, with less bulk and more mobility, but still with outstanding image quality that will make you look like a pro.

Again with these cameras, as with the compact cameras mentioned above, you aren’t getting the latest model to hit the street. These are time tested and well reviewed units that may not have this year’s latest whiz bang features, however they are fundamentally sound, high quality cameras yielding excellent image quality and features at incredibly attractive price points.

The Final Word

2012 has brought with it great advances in digital cameras for the amateur photographer. By following our simple guidelines for picking a point and shoot camera, you can avoid being distracted by marketing jargon and make an informed camera decision. Ready to take a step beyond the point and shoot or are you looking for more “pop” in your pictures? Only roughly a year ago the universal answer for anyone with a growing interest in photography would have been to get a DSLR. Welcome to 2013 and it’s prime time for the MILC. While the DSLR remains a staple in any professional photographer’s armory, amateurs and professionals alike are looking first to MILC’s to get those higher quality images while abandoning the added complexity and bulkiness of the traditional DSLR unless its really needed. The MILC is just that good!

Now that you have a great camera, don’t forget to enter Fly.com’s Photo Contest for the chance to win up to $2,500 in prizes! Contest ends January 31.

Featured Image: A Cameraman Taking Outdoor Photos (Shutterstock.com)

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Fly.com regularly posts guest contributions from travel experts around the world. These articles are written by journalists, bloggers, travel enthusiasts, and specialists from within various segments of the travel industry. Each has an undeniable passion for travel that enables them to share a unique and valuable point of view. We hope you enjoy their stories and advice!

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